When Donald Trump lays his head on his pillow every night, he should thank the Lord for two blessings. The first is the privilege of leading a great nation, and the second is the quality of his political opponents here at home. Despite stepping on his own toes and committing a serious mistake in Helsinki, Trump’s critics have responded with such hysteria that even other Trump critics are balking. The Atlantic’s Danielle Pletka calls Trump’s performance in the summit “dreadful,” but thinks the reaction to it is as bad:
But the reaction on Twitter from the foreign-policy establishment was almost as untethered as Trump himself. John Brennan, who served as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency under Obama, tweeted:
Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you??? …
There’s plenty to say about Trump’s Helsinki performance, none of it good. The man was made a cat’s paw by Putin, and that’s the least of it. Working together in Syria? Moral equivalence between Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Putin? It was dreadful, even disgraceful—but it wasn’t treason. And the immediate reaction from many establishment figures was too much.
Pletka makes an argument that I discussed on today’s Hugh Hewitt show, which is that this kind of irrational and hyperbolic reaction undermines the credibility of those making it. It also does more damage than just to people like Brennan, whose hysterical accusations of treason come after the indisputable fact that the Russian intrusions happened on Brennan’s watch, not Trump’s. It also does damage to the ability of Trump’s political allies to offer rational criticisms that might tend to corral Trump.
As I write in today’s column at The Week, Republicans actually did step up to yank back the reins, and it had an impact:
The new sheriff found a bipartisan posse waiting for him upon his return from Helsinki. Condemnations rained down on Trump from both sides of the aisle for denigrating the work of U.S. intelligence in order to praise Putin. Most notably, reliable allies launched public criticisms of his performance. Newt Gingrich, whose wife serves as Trump’s ambassador to the Vatican, called it “the most serious mistake of his presidency,” one that “must be corrected — immediately.” The Wall Street Journalblasted it as “a personal and national embarrassment.” Even on Fox News, the most friendly mainstream media outlet for the administration, most of the daytime hosts criticized the presser. “He was not the patriot he should have been,” Fox Business Network’s Trish Regan lamented.
Trump had little choice but to throw in the towel. The president reversed himself, claiming that he’d meant to say that “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia” that conducted a disruption campaign. That’s still an odd thing to say, especially while arguing that Putin and his own intel resources had equivalent credibility, but a walkback is a walkback, no matter how stilted and unbelievable the details. …
The outcome demonstrates something else, too — a limit to Trump’s support on Capitol Hill and within his own party. This time, it was the Republican establishment who played sheriff and Trump that got his reins yanked back. That’s a valuable lesson, one which puts more responsibility on the GOP to exercise those reins more vigorously in the future. To the extent that the sheriff keeps control and prevents chaos, the imposition of discipline will only help Trump in the long run.
Hysterical accusations of “treason” are corrosive to the national polity for that reason. There’s ample room for criticizing Trump without everything being the End Of America As We Know It, and that Chicken Little-ism gets so ridiculous that it’s tempting to dismiss all criticism as products of “unhinged” minds.
Kurt Schlichter came to the same conclusion on Monday, only of course he puts it far more, er, colorfully:
How did Trump luck out by getting such hopeless geebos for opponents? It can’t just be chance. At every turn, these dummies choose to lock themselves into the most implausible and indefensible positions imaginable, then push all their chips into the center of the table. It’s almost supernatural – maybe Trump won the intervention of some ancient demon by heading over to the offices of the Weekly Standard and snatching away one of its Never Trump scribblers to use as a virgin sacrifice. …
The Democrats have also decided that they want to go into November on the platform of abolishing ICE and opening the borders to future Democrat voters from festering Third World hellholes. Perhaps they didn’t read the polls, but Normal Americans – the ones not appearing on CNN, working for Soros-funded agitator collectives, or in college squandering their dads’ money on degrees in Oppression Studies – actually like borders. If Trump’s brain trust gathered together in his palatial Mar-a-Lago estate to concoct a scheme to get the Democrat Party to adopt the most tone-deaf possible platform, they could not have drafted one better than what the Democrats have created for themselves. The Dems ought to be required to report everything they have done lately to the Federal Elections Commission as an in-kind donation to the Republicans in 2018. …
One of the secrets of Trump’s success is having really, really stupid enemies, enemies who are so tone-deaf and out-of-touch that they simply cannot adopt commonsense positions that resonate among normal Americans.
Kurt’s advancing this argument to the agenda, but it’s strongest when applying to the reaction Trump gets. If Democrats had adopted a moderate tone and focused criticism, there might really have been a blue wave in November. Right now, though, the midterms look like a choice between an undisciplined president who delivers on mainstream policies on one hand, and an even more undisciplined opposition that is adopting the most extreme positions possible simply because Trump and his voters repulse them.
Pletka issues this cri de coeur in her conclusion:
Yes, Trump is a shallow, vain, not terribly bright, lazy president of the United States. He might even have been interested in dirt Moscow scraped up on Hillary Clinton. And he will do some damage—which is to be expected, as our last few presidents have also done some damage. Maybe he will do more. But he can also do some good. He is not the anti-Christ, any more than Barack Obama was a Muslim, or Hillary Clinton was trafficking in children. Frothing conspiracy theories about Trump only drag everyone into that world. Nonstop outrage is exhausting and counterproductive.
Perhaps Twitter has dragged us all away from the considered responses this presidency requires. Perhaps Trump is driving us all mad. But it’s time to get a grip.